There’s some heated history behind this much-anticipated blockbuster between two of the ATP Tour’s most dynamic performers — one a 21-time Grand Slam champion who at 35 continues to set the standard in his sport; the other a freakishly athletic performer who after falling to No. 137 in the world is again motived and playing the kind of tennis that led him to a career-high No. 13 in 2016. On Thursday, Rafael Nadal stretched his personal-best season start to 18-0, third best in the Open Era. His 7-6(3), 7-6(5) Round-of-16 dismissal of American Reilly Opelka was also his record 400th Masters 1000 match win. After joining fellow Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis for a successful run at the Australian Open doubles title, Kyrgios says he’s once again fit and motivated. The enigmatic 26-year-old, also a quarterfinalist here in 2017, benefitted from a fourth-round walkover (Jannik Sinner withdrew with an illness) and should be the more well-rested of the two. Kyrgios claimed his first-ever head-to-head with Nadal in the Round of 16 at Wimbledon back in 2014, but trails 3-5 overall against the Mallorcan. “He’s playing great,” said Nadal of his upcoming opponent. “He’s one of the toughest opponents on tour. Everybody knows how good he is when he’s motivated. Probably tomorrow, he will be. It will be a good test for me, a good challenge. But I’m just excited to be in the quarterfinals. I’m going to try to be ready for it.”
Hailing from Rancho Santa Fe, Taylor Fritz is all but playing in his own backyard. Maybe that’s why the 24-year-old American so often summons his best tennis at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. In October, he punched his way through to the semifinals, saving a match point against Germany’s Alexander Zverev to get there. Five months later, he’s back in the quarterfinals after pulling off back-to-back third-set tiebreaks against Jaume Munar and Alex de Minaur, respectively. Ranked No. 20, he’ll come into his elite-eight matchup against tricky Serb Miomir Kecmanovic brimming with confidence. “It’s huge to get through these kinds of matches,” said Fritz, who defeated Kecmanovic in their only previous encounter, in the 2019 Atlanta quarterfinals. “I feel like the last couple of years, I put myself in these situations, but the theme was kind of coming close, but losing. It’s so good the last six months to be winning a lot of these matches that are really going to make the difference in my ranking, putting myself in even better spots to win big tournaments.”
No. 33 seed Grigor Dimitrov is back into the BNP Paribas Open quarterfinals for the second year in a row, his next test coming in the form of streaking baseliner Andrey Rublev, who has won his last 12 matches and this year already owns titles in Marseille and Dubai. They’ve split their four head-to-heads evenly, but haven’t faced each other since 2019. Last year, Rublev joined countryman Daniil Medvedev for a title run at the ATP Cup, and later dispatched then-No. 2-ranked Medvedev to reach the second Masters 1000 final of his career in Cincinnati. The 24-year-old can hit opponents off the court from the forehand side, but as we’ve seen this week in Indian Wells, especially during his 7-6(5), 6-4 Round of 16 triumph over 11th seed Hubert Hurkacz, he’s becoming a more well-rounded player by the day.
Defending champion Cameron Norrie’s title defense rolls on in Indian Wells, where the 26-year-old Brit continues to frustrate opponents. But he’ll be in for his stiffest test yet in the quarterfinals against a painfully familiar foe, Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz. Last year, the 18-year-old sensation, he of the Rafa comparisons, handed Norrie a 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 loss in the opening round of the US Open. “I’m feeling good physically and I like the conditions here, but I got absolutely whacked by him last time,” said Norrie, looking ahead. “He’s one of the best young up-and-coming players, really solid from both sides, has won a 500 already this year, he’s confident. It’s going to be a tough one but, hopefully, I can get some revenge.” The 19th-ranked Alcaraz recently became to become the youngest ATP 500 champion (Rio de Janeiro) since the category was created in 2009, and is now into his first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal on the heels of wins over countryman Roberto Bautista Agut and Frenchman Gael Monfils.